NJ Schools are Having to Deal with Life-threatening Food Allergies
If your child is severely allergic to certain foods, it's never easy sending them off to school for eight hours a day.
But hopefully you can find some solace in the fact that in New Jersey, schools districts are required to have a policy on life-threatening allergies, and a plan in place for the worst-case scenario.
"Every school is stocked with epinephrine, and every school has a school nurse, but our first and best line of defense in caring for food allergies is to prevent the anaphylaxis," said Lorraine Borek, president of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association.
The most severe of reactions, anaphylaxis occurs when a child ingests an allergen, such as peanuts or seafood, Borek said.
In the Hillsborough School District, where Borek serves as nursing supervisor, a number of measures are in place to avoid an allergy emergency.
The district enforces a "no-trade, no-share" food policy, and there are limits on food brought into the classroom — for birthday celebrations, for example. The school or district also opens up the lines of communication between concerned parents and those involved with food services, Borek said.
"Although we do offer allergy-aware tables, very few parents actually opt in for that," Borek said, noting the experience can make students feel isolated.
According to Borek, 25 percent of first-time allergic reactions occur in school.
Parents of students with life-threatening allergies tend to supply the school with epinephrine, in case of anaphylaxis, but schools have the drug on hand as well.
The Food and Drug Administration, in the face of a recent EpiPen shortage, said the injection devices can be used past their expiration date. But the NJSSNA, as of now, said schools are not taking that risk.
Janet Bamford, manager of communications or publications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said districts are often discouraged to implement a full-blown no-nut policy.
"That's a tricky thing to administer because it's tough to absolutely guarantee that they can totally protect a child from any exposure," Bamford said. "It's a school and there's kids."